Published Sep 10, 2014Though charming, M. Ward's Montréal set was somehow tarnished with an odd energy. Maybe it was the big full moon waning outside, or the fact that the show was moved from the prestigious Corona Theatre to Petit Campus. Showing up to a town and finding out you can't fill the room you were booked to play can be disconcerting.
Ward seemed distracted at the start of his set, which to the surprise of more than a few was played entirely solo. He fluttered between instrumentals and cherry-picked numbers from his formidable back catalogue, on an out-of-tune guitar that would have otherwise sounded gorgeous in the venue. It could have been on purpose — performers are given to moods. Regardless, the crowd didn't seem to mind, and were attentive and warm throughout Ward's set.
The music began to tighten up when Ward played an inventive cover of Buddy Holly's "Rave On," complemented by a surprise loop pedal and bottleneck slide interlude, which led into a four-song stint on a piano that had been cleverly hidden in the darkness of the stage. These songs were close, intimate and full of longing — more than a couple of audience members burst into noticeable tears.
Ward's experience as a performer was clear. He worked dynamics well, weaving between the languid sentimentalism he's adored for (see side project She & Him) and upbeat, bluesy numbers. By the second half of the set, however, the predictability of Ward's songwriting and the limited expression allowed by being a solo performer began to seem overly uniform.
A very bright spot was a cover of Daniel Johnston's "The Story Of An Artist," which Ward prefaced by saying that "Everyone thinks he's [Johnston] crazy; I think everyone else is crazy." Ward brought a dark, bitter softness to the melody of the song. A few more off-the-cuff selections from previous records followed. It was surprising how little Ward played off his most recent release, A Wasteland Companion — the show seemed more of an opportunity for him to just get on a stage and play.
Ward's encore applause was punctuated by a beautiful loop that ran through from the previous song. After playing two final tunes, including audience request "Rollercoaster," Ward stomped his loop pedal again to play the loop, and graciously left the stage for the final time. While it wasn't an off night, the show was definitely weird: pretty good, but mostly inconsequential.